HL Deb 10 July 1981 vol 422 cc931-54

11.33 a.m.

Lord Denham

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Belize Bill, has consented to place her Prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The purpose of the Bill is to make provision for the attainment of independence by Belize within the Commonwealth and for connected matters of nationality and the consequential modification of other enactments, and I believe it will commend itself to all parts of the House. The history of Britain's connection with this part of Central America is particularly interesting. It dates back to the mid-17th century. Although the region was administered by the Spanish Crown, the settlement was established by disbanded British soldiers and sailors who subsequently earned a living through the cutting and trade of log wood. Their rights in this respect were eventually recognised in a treaty with Spain.

De facto British control and administration matured into full sovereignty and Belize became a Crown colony in 1862. After the break-up of the Spanish Empire in the early 19th century and the emergence of the five Central American republics as independent countries, Belize's border with Guatemala was agreed by treaty in 1859. This was however unilaterally revoked by Guatemala, which early this century reverted to a claim of sovereignty over Belize. The persistence of this claim has remained an obstacle to the granting of full independence to Belize, but in 1963 a ministerial system of internal self-government was established. The Governor retains special responsibilities for defence, internal security and external affairs, but limited responsibility for the latter, particularly in relation to the Caribbean area, has in recent years been devolved. This system of internal self-government has enabled Belize to develop over a period of nearly 20 years experience and institutions which will place it in good stead to face the responsibilities of full nationhood. Perhaps I should mention that Belize changed its name from British Honduras in 1973.

The continuing controversy with Guatemala and the implicit threat this places to Belize's security have required the stationing of a British garrison in Belize, an increasing anachronism in the last quarter of the 20th century. Negotiations to try to resolve this dispute have been pursued with the Guatemalans by a number of British Governments over many years. The present round began rather more than a year ago and has now reached a promising stage. In March, we, together with Belize, signed the Guatemala heads of agreement which provide for the conclusion of a full treaty whereby Guatemala would recognise an independent Belize within its existing and traditional frontiers. These negotiations are currently being pursued in New York at ministerial level and it is our earnest hope that they will produce a positive result before Belize's transition to independence.

Noble Lords may ask why we are proceeding with the Bill before the results of these negotiations are known. It is the view of the Government that, in accordance with the United Nations resolution of November 1980, Belize should be taken to early independence. Indeed, that resolution set an effective target date for independence at the end of 1981. We believe that independence for Belize should not be conditional on the successful outcome of negotiations for a treaty based on the heads of agreement, but we also believe that it is not desirable to decide the actual date until these are completed and a referendum has been held. It is in these circumstances essential that we should be in a positition to assign a date without an unnecessarily long delay. It is likely that this date will fall within our Summer Recess. It is therefore our desire to complete the necessary stages of the Bill as soon as possible.

A constitutional conference was held at Marlborough House from 6th to 14th April at which the principles of the constitution which Belize will take into independence were agreed. The report of the conference was published as Cmnd. 8245, which I am sure many of your Lordships will have read. It is a matter for regret that the Belizean Opposition chose not to attend the conference, but the Belizean public were given ample opportunity to study the Belize Government's proposals before the conference and a number of written submissions from organisations and individuals in Belize were tabled at the conference and taken fully into account. We are satisfied that proper opportunity was given to individuals and groups in Belize to express freely their views on the Belize Government's proposals and thus to play a part in shaping the new constitution.

The draft constitution which has been drawn up, based on the report of the constitutional conference to which I have referred, contains comprehensive provisions for the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms which will be specially entrenched, and other institutional provisions which will essentially preserve the basic institutions and procedures to which Belizeans are accustomed and which have served Belize well. Belize will be a constitutional Monarchy with the Queen as Head of State. There will continue to be a bicameral legislature to which the Prime Minister and his Cabinet will be responsible. The electoral system will be founded on universal adult sufferage. There will be provision for securing the independence of the judiciary and for final appeal in important cases to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. I am confident that the constitution will meet with general approval in Belize. The Bill confers power to provide a constitution by Order in Council, the constitution to come into effect on independence day.

I will briefly explain the provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 together with Schedule 1 provides for the cessation on independence day of the responsibility of the United Kingdom for the Government of Belize and for the enlargement of the legislative powers of the legislature of Belize. The actual date of independence, as indicated in Clause 6(2), will be appointed later by Order in Council. The United Nations General Assembly in the resolution which it adopted on the subject last November called for independence before the end of its next session; that is effectively by the end of this year.

It is our aim to adhere to this timescale, although the date itself will be decided in the light of progress in the negotiations with Guatemala. Clause 2 is the provision I have mentioned, which enables Her Majesty to provide a constitution by Order in Council. Clause 3, with Schedule 2, provides for the continuance after independence of laws operating in respect of Belize before independence and for the modification of certain United Kingdom enactments as a consequence of Belize's independence. Clauses 4 and 5 deal with nationality matters. These clauses gave rise to some discussion in the other place and it would be as well if I explain in layman's language what their purpose is.

Nationality is a complicated subject. The legal phraseology has to be exactly tailored and it is not always easy to follow. On independence day, when the new Belizean constitution comes into force, a new Belizean citizenship will be created. Those people listed in paragraph 18 of the constitutional conference report will become citizens of Belize. The Bill now before us has to provide, among other things, that those who become citizens of Belize should in general cease to become citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies, in United Kingdom law. That is achieved by Clause 4. But there are certain categories of people who, because of their close ties with the United Kingdom or with a colony, should not lose their status as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. This is covered by Clause 5. Clause 6 deals with interpretation and enables Her Majesty by Order in Council to appoint independence day. I am sure that all Members of your Lordships' House will want to join with Her Majesty's Government in welcoming this Bill, which paves the way for Belize's long overdue independence and will wish Belize, together with the Belizean people, every success and goodwill in their new nationhood within the Commonwealth. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be read 2a.—(Lord Skelmersdale).

11.42 a.m.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, Parliament is usually willing to extend its welcome and good wishes to an independence Bill, for each one marks a further stage in the development of the old Empire into the Commonwealth. We should be particularly willing to welcome an independence Bill for Belize—a community that has ordered its own affairs well for some considerable time now and which, one has every reason to suppose, will continue to be able to do so provided that it is not interfered with from some external quarter.

While in general one welcomes the Bill, one is bound to question a number of points about the handling of this Bill by the Government and the arrangement of events. First, this Bill was put through all its stages in the other place on one day, or rather in one night. I wonder why that degree of hurrying was necessary? However, perhaps that is spilt milk now. At any rate, I am glad that the Government have not attempted the same procedure in your Lordships' House because I believe that a number of matters might crop up in the course of the debate which might cause the Government to ask themselves whether some amendments to the Bill might not be necessary. If that should prove to be true, the Government will have time to introduce those amendments and we on this side of the House will also have time to consider whether we wish to put down amendments, and then the House will be able to give the matter proper consideration. That is an improvement on what happened in the other place.

Secondly, the Bill is closely connected with a treaty with Guatemala which has not yet been made. The only reason why one could conceivably question Belize having its independence is concerned with its security and its relations with Guatemala. One could wish that the treaty was already made. As I remember it, when the colony of British Guyana became the independent country of Guyana, the treaty with Venezuela, with whom Guyana had a boundary dispute, was firmly made before the country proceeded to independence. I wish that could be so here.

Thirdly, there is to be a referendum on the treaty. The referendum has not yet been held and we do not know what its result will be. Fourth, the independence is to be brought into existence by an Order in Council, which the noble Lord the Minister told us—almost as a recommendation—will be made during the Recess. I doubt whether your Lordships' House will regard that as a recommendation—the more so as this is a rather unusual kind of order, because although it has to be laid before Parliament, so far as I can see Parliament is not in a position to do anything about it. The order becomes valid as soon as it is made, and since Parliament will be in Recess perhaps it is rather idle to complain that Members of Parliament will not be able to say anything effective about the order. I hope that there are not too many orders of this kind.

There are also complications about the citizenship of Belize and the rights of particular persons as a result of independence. This bill must be unique in that it contains references to an Act of Parliament that is not yet an Act—the British Nationality Act. I shall refer a little later to the rather complicated problems about citizenship as a result of the combined working of the British Nationality Act, if it becomes an Act, and this Bill. The final complication we have to take into account is that over the whole of this hangs the shadow of the security of the future independent state of Belize. I shall want to refer to that matter again.

I have mentioned certain reasons why our welcome to the Belize Bill is somewhat qualified, and from that qualification arise certain questions. First, how are the negotiations for the treaty progressing? If I may say so, what the noble Lord the Minister told us today was substantially what Mr. Nicholas Ridley told the Members of the other place a little while ago. Has there been any further real progress? Is the noble Lord the Minister in a position to give a more definite statement about when a fully-fledged, signed, sealed and delivered treaty will be available?

Secondly, I understand that independence day will be after the treaty is made, if indeed it is made, and after the referendum is held. But independence day is in any event to be during this calendar year. If the treaty were not made, or if the referendum rejected the treaty, it is apparently the Government's intention to proceed to independence before the end of this year whatever the situation in respect of the treaty and the referendum; but, if they can, the Government will get the treaty and the referendum through before independence. I hope the noble Lord the Minister will be able to confirm that I have got that rather complicated matter right.

Thirdly, what happens if a treaty is made and the Belizeans turn it down in the referendum? One might ask if the treaty would still be valid, although that is a question for international lawyers. What is perfectly clear is that the treaty would not mean anything if the referendum was against it. This raises a very critical point about the security of Belize. I should like to quote what was said by Mr. Ridley on this matter. At one stage in the debate on the Second Reading in the other place he said: Her Majesty's Government intend to make arrangements for the future security of Belize which will be appropriate in the circumstances, whatever they may be".—[Official Report, Commons, 30/6/81; col. 815.] Does "appropriate in the circumstances" mean that the Government are determined to defend Belize if it is attacked? That is how I would interpret the word "appropriate", but we really ought to have that made perfectly clear. Mr. Ridley then went on to spell out the different circumstances which might occur. One set of circumstances is that the treaty is made and the Belizeans approve it in the referendum. That is obviously the most favourable set of circumstances. The very fact that that was done would be of considerable encouragement to the future security of Belize, and any preparations that the Government might have to make to ensure that arrangements were appropriate to the circumstances might not have to be very formidable.

But suppose that no treaty is made and that Belize proceeds to independence without a treaty with its comparatively powerful neighbour. Presumably then the arrangements for its security, if they are to be appropriate, would have to be rather more thorough-going than if there were a treaty. Again I hope that it would still be the Government's intention, if necessary, to defend the security of Belize, even if—which I hope will not happen—no treaty is reached.

Then we come to the third possible set of circumstances: that a treaty is made and the Belizean referendum rejects it. On that point Mr. Ridley had something very interesting to say: In that case", he said, …it would be an extremely perilous independence, because who can guarantee security in an area like South America, with a rejected Guatemala and all sorts of other people trying to get in on the act? At a time like that, the danger would be great indeed, and I have told the Belizeans that the reaction of the United Kingdom Parliament and Government must not be taken for granted in those circumstances".—[Col. 816.] That is rather different from what he said earlier as reported at col. 815: that the Government will, make arrangements for the future security of Belize which will be appropriate in the circumstances, whatever they may be". Then he spelt out the circumstances, and if in fact a treaty is made but is rejected on the referendum, then he is not really giving any guarantee at all of future security. That is how I read those points.

The precise question that I am asking the Minister is: What will be the position if a treaty is made and the referendum rejects it? I agree that it would be very unwise for the Belizeans to do that, and I hope it will not happen. But we must know the answer to this question. If a treaty is made and the Belizeans do reject it, will Her Majesty's Government still consider themselves bound to defend, if necessary, the security of Belize? These matters are not as clear as they might be from the Government's previous statement, and one advantage of being able to have a debate in this House is to give the Government an opportunity to spell out the situation even more precisely.

I think that I have already raised the question of the order. It seems that I am right in saying that the only thing that Parliament can do with the order is to read it. So far as I can see, we shall have no opportunity to do anything about it, and even if we had, it would not be an opportunity that led anywhere. That might be all right if everything goes smoothly over the treaty and the referendum. But if we have all good reason to be unhappy about how things are going in Belize, can the Government provide any opportunity for us to debate the matter again after the Bill has gone through and when the order is laid before Parliament?

I come now to the question of citizenship, and I shall not attempt to go through all the various possibilities outlined in Clauses 4 and 5 of the Bill. However, there are one or two basic questions to which it is necessary to have the answers. The important thing is to make sure that after independence no one is left without any citizenship. Can we take it as clear that anyone now residing in Belize, and who in consequence is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, after independence will be either a citizen of Belize, or a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies? I want to be sure that no one finds himself without either of those citizenships. In the Commons the Minister gave an answer that should reassure me on this point. As reported at col. 819 of the Official Report of 30th June, Mr. Christopher Price asked him: Can the Minister give us a guarantee about Clause 4? Those who cease to become citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies will definitely, on independence, become citizens of Belize? Mr. Ridley's answer was, "Yes".

But the trouble is that that is not in the Bill. One can look as hard as one likes, but it is not in the Bill. Further pressed on the matter, Mr. Ridley said in effect that the point is not covered in the Bill but that it would be found in the report of the constitutional conference. But I do not think that that has the force of law.

Now I can see that it could be argued that since Belize is to be independent, we ought not in the Bill to lay down who is, or who is not, to be a citizen of Belize; that should be their business. But at least we ought to give the guarantee absolutely the other way round: that anyone who is now a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, and who for any reason finds himself not a citizen of Belize after independence, shall remain a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies. The Government's position is that that is already so, but I would defy any layman, and possibly a number of lawyers as well, to find that definitely provided for in the Bill. Between now and Committee stage will the Government please see whether that can definitely be provided for somewhere in the Bill?

I would also ask another question about those who after independence are still citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. What will happen to them when the British Nationality Bill becomes an Act? Am I right in thinking that they will then become—what is the phrase?—citizens of dependent territories? I presume that that would be the case, but we ought to be sure about it.

In conclusion, I say that the Government should realise—I think they do realise—that there is much anxiety in Belize about this Bill. It is much to be regretted that the Belizean Opposition did not take part in the discussions. Speaking as an experienced politician in all kinds of fields, involving both home and international affairs, I think that it is nearly always a mistake to fail to take part in discussions. One is reminded of that devastating French proverb that the absent are always wrong. I think it a pity that the Opposition decided not to take part, but that they did so decide is proof of considerable anxiety. As the Bill proceeds on its way the Government must make quite sure that the anxieties of the Belizeans about their security, their relations with Guatemala—and I carry this a little further—and their relations with other powers on the American continent are allayed.

I think I am right in saying that at present the Guatemalan Government purchases arms from the United States. This is a matter on which we should be entitled to make certain representations to the American Government if it appears that Guatemalan activities are likely to threaten the independence and happiness of Belize. We all hope that it will not come to that kind of thing. But I hope that the Government will be fully aware of the anxiety that there is in Belize about the Bill and will agree that it is their duty to do all they can to allay it. Subject to those, I fear rather considerable, qualifications, I assure the Government that we shall be glad to see the Bill pass into law.

11.57 a.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, has said, we normally accord an unqualified welcome to Bills providing for the independence of countries in the Commonwealth; and we would do so in this case if we were sure that the status of Belize was fully safeguarded and that she could enjoy peace within her undisturbed borders as a result of the negotiations that are currently taking place with Guatemala. Everyone would be extremely happy if the long-standing dispute with Guatemala can be brought to an end, and if that enables Belize to proceed to her independence within the timescale that the noble Lord the Minister has mentioned. He pointed out that the United Nations had already passed a resolution calling for independence to be reached by the end of this year and that the United Kingdom had said that it would do its best to comply with that timescale. It is in our interests that we should comply with the time-scale because thereby Britain will be relieved of an obligation that has involved the maintenance of our troops in the Western Hemisphere to protect against the threat of aggression by Guatemala. As the noble Lord has said, there have now been signed between the United Kingdom and Guatemala heads of agreement which at least indicate the way forward to a peaceful settlement of the longstanding dispute.

There are one or two questions that I should like to add to those already put by the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, about the progress that has been made since the agreement was signed on 16th March. In paragraph 2 of the heads of agreement there is provision for Guatemala to be accorded such territorial seas as shall ensure permanent and unimpeded access to the high seas, together with rights over the seabed thereunder". What are the territorial seas that are to be accorded to Guatemala, and has the matter been fully agreed with the Government of Belize?

In paragraph 3, where it is said that Guatemala shall have the use and enjoyment of certain cays which are off the coast of Belize, again what rights does that give to Guatemala over the seabed resources and the fishing resources in the neighbourhood of those cays? Has that again been agreed with the Government of Belize?

Has any agreement been reached under paragraph 8 for the exploitation of the continental shelf for hydrocarbons, a matter which could be of some considerable importance for the newly emergent nation? And what about the draft Treaty of Mutual Co-operation on Security which is mentioned in paragraph 11? Has that yet been tabled, and, if so, has that to be signed before the referendum?

Paragraph 15 provides for a joint commission to be established to give effect to the matters dealt with in the heads of agreement. Has that joint commission been brought into existence yet, and, if so, when does it start its work?

It is important, I think, that we should have answers to questions such as the ones I have put, and the people of Belize would like to have them in front of them before they make a final decision. With goodwill on the part of Guatemala the questions I have put ought to be soluble, even though the example quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, is not a very happy one in the sense that we may have signed a treaty with Venezuela prior to the granting of independence to Guyana on the territorial integrity of the latter country, but nevertheless he will have noticed that in recent months the Venezuelans have revived their territorial claims to the Essequibo which constitutes a large part of the territory of Guyana, and only the other day the Foreign Minister of Venezuela was in this country with a view to obtaining United Kingdom support for that claim.

It seems to me that the security of Belize depends not so much on the restraint of Guatemala, or exactly what was in this treaty, but as was pointed out in another place, on the influence of the Organisation of the United States to which Belize will belong; and in that sense the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, is very relevant. The United States being the most powerful member of the Organisation of American States it does have a strong interest in the preservation of peace in the region. I would echo what he has said about the risks of current American policy in Central America, of supplying arms to regimes like Guatemala which have, in the case of Guatemala, murdered something like 70,000 of its own inhabitants over the last 10 years and which certainly cannot be trusted not to commit acts of aggression against their neighbours. I am hoping, as the noble Lord has suggested, that the influence of the United States might restrain Guatemala from embarking on such a course of action and, of course, he might also have added that the Mexicans have a strong interest, in view of their boundary, in the preservation of the territorial integrity of Belize. So I think the membership of the OAS ought to be a strong guarantee of Belize's independence, and I believe that it would be just as effective in safeguarding her integrity as the presence of a few British troops.

There is a matter which I should like to refer to which has not yet been touched on, and that is that during the run-up to independence some of us received letters from people in Belize concerning the electoral process there and the anxieties they had concerning the preservation of human rights. We have before us the report of the Belize constitutional conference, which, as the noble Lord says, was held during April. That report states that the Leader of the Opposition and representatives of the United Democratic Party had been invited to attend but had declined. I wonder if the noble Lord, when he comes to reply, can give us any indication of reasons for that refusal? I ask this question because of the anxieties expressed in writing concerning malpractices which they allege occurred in the 1979 election, and in particular their allegations that ballot papers were doctored.

I must add that they did not submit any election petition at the time setting out these charges, as was provided for under the Representation of the People Ordinance, although I understand there were four other election petitions submitted by other individuals to the election judge, two of which were dismissed: one was found to be not proven, and the fourth was struck off the file. So I am not saying that I necessarily attach credence to the allegations which were made; I merely say they were drawn to our attention by a number of people in Belize.

I did ask the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary in particular about the arrangements being made in the independence constitution to safeguard the independence of the judiciary, another matter of anxiety which had been drawn to our attention, and he pointed to the provision in the report of the constitutional conference for the chief justice to be appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister after consulting with the Leader of the Opposition. I am not sure whether the Minister can tell us if that arrangement has any precedent in other Commonwealth countries. It seems to me that the Prime Minister might, theoretically at any rate, appoint someone who was a party man, disregarding the advice of the Leader of the Opposition. It might have been preferable to say that the supreme court judges would have had the power to elect the chief justice.

The report of the constitutional conference says that the constitution will include a comprehensive section on human rights and freedoms, based on the United Nations covenants, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights. Will Belize become a signatory of the covenants, and is the noble Lord able to tell us whether she will become a signatory of the Optional Protocol to the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which allows the right of individual petition?

The Bill only provides for the constitution to be approved by Her Majesty in Council, and we are obliged to accept that it will fulfil the spirit of these undertakings. As the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, has pointed out, there will be no further opportunity for us to discuss this, because the order will be presented during the Recess and, as I understand it, the Prime Minister, Mr. Price, has said he was aiming at an independent state some time in September.

As to citizenship, it is interesting to notice that the Bill preserves the rule of jus soli, which your Lordships decided earlier this week should be abandoned by the United Kingdom. One feature of the citizenship law is similar to that of other countries in the West Indies, and that is that a person who is born in Belize, and has lived in Britain for 20 years (or whatever the period may be) as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, is suddenly to become a citizen of Belize. Many of the people concerned will be totally unaware of the change in their status, and also they may not know that if they do not take the trouble to register as British citizens after the Nationality Act has been passed they will lose that right altogether; and this is something which I am really a little bit anxious about.

I would endorse what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, concerning the need for assurances that no person who resides in Belize now is going to be rendered stateless by the provisions of this Bill: that one must either acquire citizenship of the newly independent country or must remain a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies. I am obliged to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, that when you read Clauses 4 and 5 it is not at all clear that this is so.

Finally, with regard to the referendum, as I understand it that will enable the people to give their approval to the terms of the treaty with Guatemala. But the question has been asked: What happens if the people withhold their approval? Belize would then proceed, as I understand it, to independence all the same, but without the protection of the treaty. In the circumstances, I do not believe it can be said that the electors will have a free choice, bearing in mind particularly the words of the Minister in another place which were quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Stewart.

But subject to obtaining satisfactory answers to these questions, we would again echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, that this is part of the process of decolonisation, of the transformation of the British Empire into the Commonwealth of Nations, and we certainly echo the warm good wishes which have been expressed for the future happiness and prosperity of the people of Belize.

12.11 p.m.

Baroness Vickers

My Lords, it is customary in the case of independence Bills to give a welcome. Unfortunately, I cannot give a welcome to this Bill today as it stands. Despite the various remarks of other noble Lords that we have heard in regard to this Bill, it does not commend itself to me, as the noble Lord the Minister said it should. We have 44 independent countries in the Commonwealth, and in another place I spoke in many of the debates on independence, as the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, will remember. I was absolutely astonished when this Bill was rushed through the other House in less than two hours, when there were only 64 Members present, including the four tellers. It would also be interesting, having read the debate, to know whether any of those who took part in it had actually visited Belize, and had real knowledge of what was happening there.

In regard to this debate, I noticed the statement made by the Minister: It was … a great pleasure to us all that we got as far as signing the heads of agreement with Guatemala…".—[Official Report, Commons, 30/6/81, col. 802.] Then it was admitted—a very strange sentence—that the heads of agreement was not a legal document or a legal treaty, and that it is still necessary to turn these heads of agreement into a treaty or treaties. It was also stated on 30th June that there was going to take place in a week's time, which I gather was about 6th July, another conference or another meeting. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether this is in being at the present time.

As the Minister mentioned, Belize has been fully independent internally since 1963; and I should like to suggest that it has one magnificent record: it is the oasis of democracy in South America. Another strange statement by the Minister was that he pointed out that the points that remained after the various debates, though thoroughly tricky and difficult, were not many and were not of such importance as the ending of the dispute and the settling of a secure foundation for the future progress of Belize. It seems very odd that if a great number of points remain tricky and difficult, he can be so hopeful in regard to this Bill.

It should be remembered, as has been mentioned once before, that the Opposition did not attend the conference. Also—and I think this has not been mentioned—there was an upheaval and turmoil in Belize following the publication of the heads of agreement. The Prime Minister, Mr. George Price, for whom I have much admiration, has provided—this was mentioned in the debate in the House of Commons—for a referendum; but it is rather odd, it seems to me, that it is going to be a referendum when the heads of agreement have been signed. I have read all through the document setting out the heads of agreement, and I do not want to go through it point by point, but I am certainly not happy about them—in particular, Nos. 3, 4 and 5, 12 and 15, which seem to be entirely on the side of Guatemala; and this, I think, is very unfortunate for Belizeans.

At the London Independence Constitutional Conference there was a saying when we were asked why the Opposition had not come. "The Cockroach Conference" they called it, because there is a proverb which says, "When a cockroach has a party he never invites the fowl". They were quite certain that they would be gobbled up, and they feel now that, if the Bill goes through as it stands, they may be gobbled up by Guatemala in less than 10 years. Strangely, the draft constitution grants citizenship with voting rights to a person who has lived in the country for only five years. I do not know whether people really realise how dangerous this is when there are only 160,000 Belizeans and 7 million Guatemalans—and they do go there for quite a considerable time.

Clause 6—I am talking now about the heads of agreement—says that there are to be three oil pipelines across Belize to three ports. These will have to be guarded, because we know that there are quite a lot of guerrillas who have come over from Guatemala. This will divide Belize up into four narrow cantons; and they will be separated by, I presume, Guatemalan military guards. Clause 3, about cays, is a very sticky point in my opinion, because I believe that the Guatemalans would have a right to build a naval base or an airstrip, and these cays are really meant for enjoyment. Guatemalans go there for tourism now, and, as tourists, stay for quite a long time. This could mean land cession, which for centuries Guatemalans have desired.

I should also like to mention a Question which was asked in this House on 12th May and answered by the Foreign Secretary, because it did not give the same indication that was given in the House of Commons. I understood from what the noble Lord said that there would be a referendum before independence, but now it appears there will not be a referendum. What is the point of having a referendum when everything is decided? At the present time Belize is a Crown Colony, of course, and has, as has been mentioned before, internal self-government. It has a constitution; and defence and foreign affairs are still the responsibility of the United Kingdom. I should like to suggest that perhaps there might be some agreement, such as there was with the Associated States of the West Indies under the Act of 1967, so that we should keep an open commitment about helping them for the time necessary in the future in regard to defence.

I should also like to know what financial aid Belize is likely to receive when she becomes independent. In regard to defence, I consider there is a very good case here for a training ground. We have no tropical training areas at the present time. For the northern areas, of course, we have Norway; and Belize would be a very advantageous place to carry out training.

I was really astonished to receive a document dated 2nd July which said: Guatemala threatens to break off talks with Britain about Belize". One of the sentences was as follows: We will not recognise this new state if Great Britain unilaterally gives it independence". It also said that Lucas Garcia told the congress: If this happens Guatemala will consider the negotiations (with Britain) finished". He rejected all the terms of the tentative agreement which, he said, we consider contrary to the national interest or injurious to our national honour". I should like to know whether this document has any real standing—it is quite interesting, and there is quite a lot more I could read about it—because this very much worries the Belizeans themselves.

Finally, I should like to mention Cmnd. 8245. We have to remember that perhaps it is not only Guatemala that is interested in Belize. As has been said, and as we know, part of Belize came from Mexico, and it has been said that if the Guatemalans walked in the Mexicans would not like that. I should like to know what is the exact position in regard to Mexico. Have discussion taken place with Mexico? Would they come in and cause a civil war, or is it that they have no wish for future action?

Then, we have in Cmnd. 8245 a statement by Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers was one of the delegation but he was not a Member of Parliament. He made the final Statement at the conference. He said: Comforting were your assurances that … there can be no question of Her Majesty's Government abandoning its rightful responsibilities for the security of Belize. Yet there are many forces at work"— I do not think he understated that— which wish, even at this late hour, to forestall the rightful aspirations of the Belizean people for independence". He finishes with this sentence: There remains much to be done, therefore, before we can celebrate the fulfilment of our destiny. We shall not be deterred, for the peace and prosperity of the future nation of Belize is too great a goal to be compromised". I think we shall have to discuss this. I am glad that we are going to have a second day for consideration, because I am fearful. We do not know enough about the whole arrangements, we do not know about the agreement and the will of the people in Belize. We should have a referendum before anything is settled; otherwise I can see future difficulties.

I should be pleased to see this territory independent but I do not want to throw them to the wolves (shall I say?) of the other territories in South America. Therefore I want to be certain that there is every possible safeguard because I think that Her Majesty's Government will never be able to forgive themselves if, within a few years, this country is taken over by its neighbours. That would be tragic. I hope that the Minister will give some consideration to these points when he replies.

12.24 p.m.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

My Lords, I am glad to be able to follow the noble Baroness because, like her, I am glad that Belize is about to become independent and, also like her, I am worried that we are leading Belize into independence in the way we are. I am glad that we are not following the other place and having the Belize Bill going through all its stages in one sitting because I intend—and I told the Minister when I spoke to him a couple of days ago—to try to amend the Bill in two specific respects which may have the effect of delaying the date of independence; but I believe it would be a right and proper thing to do. First, I support the noble Baroness in saying that there should be a referendum not merely on whether or not they agree to the treaty with Guatemala but whether or not they want independence either with the treaty or without it. In other words, I think, in effect, that in the case of Belize it is necessary for the people to be invited to speak clearly and unequivocally as to what they want.

The noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, illustrated the different things that may occur. For example, the best thing would be if the people of Belize endorse the agreement with Guatemala and then go on to independence. That is the best. But, in fact, the people of Belize may reject the agreement with Guatemala and we have to decide where we are then. Therefore, in effect, I think a referendum, not merely on the agreement with Guatemala but also on whether or not the people of Belize want to go on to independence at this stage, is necessary. I hope that the Government will be prepared to consider that even if it involves delaying the independence date by a couple of months.

It need not necessarily do that, because there is a referendum to be held in any case. The Prime Minister of Belize has given an undertaking that the agreement with Guatemala will be put to the people in a referendum so that there will be a referendum in any case. As I see it, the referendum can have several questions including a question about independence with the agreement of Guatemala or without the agreement of Guatemala, with a clear understanding by the people of Belize as to what are the implications.

The reason why I have come to that conclusion and why I will try to press your Lordships on this is that I have had representations made to me about the fears and suspicions of the people of Guatemala. At least those who communicated with me think that, as things are, Guatemala will absorb Belize within 10 years or perhaps five years without using force merely by the process of sending Guatemalans into Belize to settle and vote at elections. The noble Baroness pointed out that, as the constitution now stands, if you are living in Belize for five years you have a vote. There are only 110,000 people in Belize (the noble Baroness said 160,000, and she may be right) and 7 million in Guatemala; so that the people of Belize see that as a possible way in which Guatemala will absorb them because, once a majority of the people of Belize are Guatemalans, they can pass a resolution in Parliament inviting Guatemala to accept them as a province.

This is one way that they have seen it. They have also seen the possibility of these pipelines which were mentioned by the noble Baroness dividing the country into four cantons each of which has Guatemalan troops around it as another way in which Guatemala can absorb Belize. In effect, I should have thought that in the negotiations it is necessary to get undertakings on both of those points. I am glad that the question of the USA has been mentioned because I think the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is right that the Organisation of American States would be Belize's best protection. But the country that carries the weight in the Organisation of American States is the USA and so, since there is this special relationship between us and the USA, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will endeavour to get a clear agreement with the United States that they would support an independent Belize and support this haven of democracy in this particular area of dictatorship. Therefore, I hope that we get all this settled before we fix a date for independence. Therefore, I would want to move an amendment to the last clause of the Bill. Clause 6(2) of which at present reads: In this Act 'Independence Day' means such day as Her Majesty may by Order in Council appoint; and any Order in Council under this subsection shall be laid before Parliament after being made.". I would like to add: "and Her Majesty's Government will undertake to ensure the people of Belize have indicated their acceptance of this day in a referendum". That I would like to see done.

The other thing that I would like to do—and I would like to do it because again I feel we need to reassure the people of Belize as much as possible—is that I should like the constitution order to require the affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament. It is that particular bit which, as I have said, would delay independence; unless it is possible to lay it before we adjourn for the Summer Recess. Whether rightly or wrongly—and I am not going into the rightness or wrongness of their fears and suspicions; I am merely indicating that they exist—the people obviously have fears and suspicions and this led them to civil disobedience in Belize immediately the heads of agreement were announced. The fears which lead people to take those steps must be borne carefully in mind before final action is taken.

The act of creating an independent Belize is a final one. Before we do it we must not only be satisfied in our own minds but do as much as we can to satisfy the people of Belize that we have taken their interests fully into account; that when we grant them independence it is an independence which will last; that we have made sure that the issues that have stood in the way have been taken care of, and that we are prepared to continue to support them after they become independent. Therefore I shall try to see whether we can agree to amend the Bill in the ways that I have suggested. I am glad that the question of nationality has been raised. It is important that assurance should be given that nobody living in Belize will find themselves stateless after independence.

I also think it is necessary to let the people of Belize living here at this moment, citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies, know the implications of the independence of Belize. I am almost anticipating an amendment I intend to move on the British Nationality Bill. If they do not understand and we pass the British Nationality Bill as an Act at the end of this year, five years from now they will have lost the right to register as British citizens unless in the process we change the Bill. It is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to make sure that the people of Belize who are now going to have their status changed know what the new status is and understand the implications of this new Bill.

My Lords, I have said enough. This is an occasion when we should be rejoicing. For 18 years we have been trying to find a formula for getting Belize independent. It is sad that on an occasion when we should be rejoicing there should be a need to express all these worries. I feel that when making these decisions Her Majesty's Government have a responsibility, and we in Parliament have a responsibility, to make sure that not only what we do is right, but that the people affected by them are satisfied that we have done what is right.

12.34 p.m.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, I apologise that I did not have my name down on the list of speakers but I was not certain that I could be present. Speaking in the cool comfort of this Chamber on what might seem sometimes esoteric points of nationality law and constitutional affairs looks very different and feels very different to the steamy jungles of Belize. I had the privilege of being in Belize for some time, particularly to see how our troops were carrying out what could have been a very difficult job. I should like to start by saying that I heard nothing but praise and gratitude from the people of Belize for what our forces were doing. On that occasion there were two Scottish regiments on turn of duty. But I was assured that it was not only the Scottish soldiers who were popular and were accepted warmly in Belize.

The conditions, of course, are very difficult. The weather is almost impossible to bear for people who are not used to it in that climate. The co-operation, friendship and the way the soldiers helped the local people in welfare and medical services was most impressive. I do not know how some of them did it, but it was certainly a joy to see Scottish soldiers teaching Mayan Indian boys football in the jungle and then to see the soldiers in their off-duty time exploring the Mayan archaeology and taking a serious interest in the country in which they were temporarily living and working.

When I tried to raise the matter of independence and withdrawal with many of my contacts in Belize, and particularly the Mayan Indians (who are a very gentle, peaceful people) who have no tradition of defence or fighting, their only hope was that independence would not be accompanied by any threat to their safety and that when independence came, as it had to come, they would not feel deserted. This is a very real feeling. It is not a feeling that comes from lack of experience. These people are just a few yards away from Guatemala. They know what goes on in Guatemala. We only know what Amnesty International and other organisations tell us. When I say to this House that many of these people are afraid for their lives, I am not being over-dramatic because they know what has happened to many people in neighbouring countries and they have had the experience of the Guatemalan policies.

One of the key factors in all this is the United States of America. I must say to that usually friendly nation that the new régime in the USA makes me even more frightened. I think the people of Belize are right to be frightened. I think it absolutely outrageous that we have a partner in NATO but I see our soldiers in Belize being forced to confront Guatemalan soldiers armed and trained by the United States. I raised this with the American Consul in Belize who gave a cynical laugh and said: "Well, it is no use sending them the stuff if you do not send people to teach them how to use it". If the American Consul can say that in that context, against whom are the Guatemalans to use these weapons? It was against the British soldiers. I think that that must be raised very sharply with the Americans because unfortunately, due to all sorts of complicated troubles in Central America into which we cannot go this morning, it seems that there is likely to be a stepping up of American arms to El Salvador, and arms all over Central America are bought and sold anyhow. If America sends arms to any part of Central America, we cannot be sure that they will not be used against Belize.

I asked a Question on 18th June of the Foreign Secretary about the present state of negotiations and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said: Talks with Guatemala to negotiate the instruments necessary to give effect to the heads of agreement signed in March are expected to resume in early July."—[Official Report, 29/6/81; col. 76.] We are about halfway through July. If these matters are to be concluded before the House rises for the Summer Recess I feel that we should have some further information this morning.

Other noble Lords have raised the question of the status of the referendum. The referendum, as I understand it, is to be held in Belize at the wish of the Belize Government and Mr. Price; but it will be a referendum on a treaty which was arranged between Britain and Guatemala. Therefore it could be argued that it will have no status. I thought I understood the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, to say that it could not have a decisive effect. That is certainly how I read what was said in another place: that it really was quite meaningless in terms of independence.

I am glad we are taking a little longer over this very important matter that concerns the future of thousands of people, their safety and their lives. I think one could say of the other place that they legislated in haste and may repent at leisure, but I hope not, because I agree very much with what my noble friend Lord Pitt and the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, have said. We ought to try to get some of these things put right because not only would it be a disaster for the people of Belize if these things did not work properly, but it would be a constitutional disgrace to this country if an order were to be brought in during the summer holidays on a Bill which I think almost every speech this morning has indicated to be in need of serious amendment.

12.41 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am very glad that your Lordships, on this occasion if on no other, are giving very serious consideration to, and exercising your proper function of review of, laws which the Government are passing through Parliament. I know full well there are a myriad of questions, and certainly a myriad have come to light during the debate today. I shall do my best to answer most of the points raised but, if I fail to do so, I promise to write to any speaker whose points have not been answered.

If I may begin wtih the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, I would tell him that it is precisely because there are a number of circumstances in which Belize might go to independence that my right honourable friend the Minister of State used the language quoted by the noble Lord. Clearly the arrangements made for Belize's security, if there is a treaty under which Guatemala has formally renounced its territorial claim, would be different from those which might be necessary if there were no treaty. In the specific circumstances mentioned by the noble Lord in which a treaty might be rejected by the Belizean people, I believe that noble Lords would agree that such an outcome would carry considerable risk for the Belizeans themselves. It is right that the people of Belize should appreciate that, and I must repeat that in those circumstances the position of this country should not be taken for granted.

Several speakers have mentioned the nature and timing of the Bill. The date of independence is not specified there because it is considered undesirable to fix it until negotiations with Guatemala have been completed and a referendum held on the terms of any treaty based on the heads of agreement. However, we may wish to set a date as early as September: that is the Belizean Government's target. In terms of the United Nations resolution, it has to be before the end of the year, so the decision almost certainly will have to be taken during the Summer Recess, as we have all said. It is important that legislation sbould be completed before the House rises, leaving the date to be specified by Order in Council. This, as the noble Lord, Lord Stewart noted, is not subject to parliamentary scrutiny but it is laid on the Table of the House so that Members of Parliament can at least see it. I should add that this is not at all unusual: it is the same procedure as was followed for Vanatu, Zimbabwe, Malta and Cyprus. We have, of course, accepted the fact that the Belize Government have undertaken to put the terms of the final treaty to referendum.

The noble Lord, Lord Stewart, also asked about the negotiations which are currently proceeding in New York. Since they have not yet been completed, I think that, with his long experience, he will appreciate that I cannot pre-empt what may still be said and what signed paper—I cannot think of the phrase at the moment—will come out of it in the end.

Almost every speaker today has referred to security after independence and, for the first time, there is now the real prospect of Belize proceeding to independence free from external threat. The outcome of the present negotiations with Guatemala will clearly influence the defence provisions that will need to be made. I want to repeat what I said at the beginning: that Her Majesty's Government, for their part, intend—and here are the magic words yet again— to make arrangements for the future security of Belize which will be appropriate to the circumstances, whatever they may be"; and "whatever they may be", as I have already explained, does mean exactly that. This will be in addition to the security provided to Belize by virtue of membership of the United Nations and of the OAS, both of which Belize intends to join.

The noble Lord, Lord Pitt, asked about the heads of agreement, referring to security. I would tell him that there is nothing in those heads of agreement that would allow Guatemalan troops on Belizean soil, whether for pipeline duties, as an act of war, or anything else—

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

My Lords, do I understand this correctly—that the Guatemalans therefore will not be able to protect the pipelines by stationing troops around them? That is a point, you know.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I shall have to check this, but my understanding is that it would only be at the invitation of the Belizean Government. If I may, I will write to the noble Lord about that.

The cays were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and by my noble friend Lady Vickers, and I can say that military use by the Guatemalans is not provided for in the heads of agreement, which include the phrase: the use and enjoyment of the cays in question". The definition of that is one of the things now being discussed during the current negotiations.

My noble friend Lady Vickers also asked about aid. Of course figures for British aid following independence have yet to be decided, but aid will continue for a number of years and we are considering suitable ways in which that might be done. It is a matter that will need to be discussed with the Belizean Government when the actual date for independence is fixed. Independence will enhance Belize's ability to attract aid from multilateral and bilateral sources, as with any other newly independent nation.

Regarding the question of oil round the cays, we do not know whether there is any, but the heads of agreement provide for exploration jointly with the Guatemalans. Belize has a healthy and expanding economy and there was strong economic growth in the 'sixties and 'seventies—

Lord Avebury

My Lords, may I interrupt for one moment? The areas adjacent to the cays are to be explored jointly, but that does not say who has sovereignty over the areas, either adjacent to the particular cays mentioned in Clause 3 of the heads of agreement or elsewhere in the agreement where it is said that in the high seas generally in the neighbourhood of Belize there will be arrangements for joint exploration for hydrocarbons. Can we have assurances that Belize will retain sovereignty over these resources even though exploration may be a joint venture?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, as I said before, I am not in a position to give assurances while the current negotiations in New York are going on, but that is one of the things that is being looked at. The potential for further satisfactory growth exists in the Belizean economy and with under-population in rural areas there is considerable scope for agricultural expansion of land not yet cultivated.

I am not quite sure whether this is the right moment to raise this, but the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, to my great surprise, mentioned the matter of jus soli. What I would say is that jus soli is not appropriate to this country, as, indeed, the House decided the other day—because we are a fairly full country—whereas it is appropriate in the case of Belize, because it is a comparatively under-populated country. This is the reason, as I see it.

Human rights in Guatemala were also raised by, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. The Government are aware, from a variety of reports, of the disquieting situation in Guatemala and strongly support the observance of full human and democratic rights there. As the Guatemalan Government broke off diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom in 1963 over Belize, we are not usually in a position to make direct representations to them. However, we have consistently pressed in the United Nations, and in other international fora, for the adequate protection of human rights throughout the world and will continue to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, also asked about the opposition's attitude to the constitutional conference. The reasons given were dissatisfaction with the Belize Government's constitutional proposals and the heads of agreement themselves. We regret that they did not come to make their points at the constitutional conference, but the conference did have written submissions, including submissions on behalf of opposition groups, and these were fully taken into account. As I have said several times, there will, of course, be a referendum on any treaty based on the heads of agreement. I was asked whether the constitutional provision regarding the chief justice is quite normal. Yes, my Lords, it is quite normal. There are many precedents for appointment by Prime Ministers, after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. Indeed, there are precedents for appointment by the Prime Minister without such consultation, so that Belize's constitution is, in this respect, more liberal than some others.

My noble friend Lady Vickers talked about citizenship. This is an extremely complicated subject and I rather doubt whether, at this hour, the House would like me to go into it in detail. It seems that your Lordships would like me to go into detail. As well as citizenship laws, Belize will have immigration regulations. It is unlikely that it will wish to admit such large numbers of foreign citizens as to make this a real danger, but, in any case, the provision for granting citizenship after five years' residence is discretionary.

The nationality implications were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, who said that it is not clear that anyone in Belize will be either a citizen of Belize or a citizen of the United Kingdom. The constitution, which is to be made by order under this Bill, will provide for those who will become citizens of Belize at independence, in accordance with paragraph 18(g) of the constitutional report. Almost all the population will become citizens of Belize. Those with a grandparent born, naturalised or registered in Belize, but who have a second nationality as well as citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies, will not become citizens of Belize.

At independence, these people will retain their nationality; and I can give this undertaking, at least, to the House that no one will be left stateless by the Bill. Some will become British citizens when the Nationality Bill becomes law, if, indeed, it does—for example, those who have the right of abode in the United Kingdom—and some will become citizens of British dependent territories; for example, those who have close connections, such as birth or father's birth, with another country. It is very unlikely that anyone will become a British overseas citizen, though the possibility cannot be ruled out.

Still on citizenship, the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, asked a whole range of questions about the subject and I am not sure where to start. Perhaps I may say that we think the citizenship provisions, which are embodied in the proposed independence constitution, are entirely satisfactory. All those who owe their citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies to a connection with Belize, which is the overwhelming majority of the population of the territory, will become citizens of the new country on independence day. The Belize Bill provides for the withdrawal of citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies from those who automatically become citizens of Belize, and will except from loss of our citizenship those people who have a close connection with the United Kingdom or a remaining dependency. These provisions follow those in previous independence legislation.

Additionally, the Belize Bill provides for the withdrawal of our citizenship from those who do not become citizens of Belize at independence, but who owe their citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies to a connection with Belize, provided they are, at independence, also citizens of some other country. The specified connection with Belize is that one grandparent was born, naturalised or registered as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies in Belize. Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies having that connection will become citizens of Belize at independence, only if they have no other citizenship. If they have another citizenship, they will not become citizens of Belize.

The Belize Bill further provides that a person who would otherwise lose our citizenship is to retain it if, immediately before independence day, he has the right of abode in the United Kingdom under the Immigration Act 1971; that is to say, as a patrial. The logic of this provision is that citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies who are patrial will, when the British Nationality Bill becomes law, become British citizens. This is the new category of citizenship to be accorded under the Nationality Bill to those citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies who are closely connected with the United Kingdom. It is consistent with the policy of that Bill, which regards patrials as having a close connection with the United Kingdom, to recognise in the Belize Bill that patrials also have a sufficiently close connection with the United Kingdom to retain our citizenship.

The noble Lord, Lord Pitt, asked about the status of Belizeans in the United Kingdom. Persons who are resident in the United Kingdom at the time of independence, but who are not patrial and who lose citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies, will not, in consequence, have any additional conditions attached to their stay in the United Kingdom. After five years' ordinary residence, including such residence before independence, they will be able to apply to recover our citizenship by registration or naturalisation, according to their date of settlement in this country. Those who become citizens of Belize automatically on independence, and who, because of a sufficiently close connection with the United Kingdom, retain our citizenship, will enjoy dual nationality. That is a synopsis of Clauses 3, 4 and 5 of the Bill. Should noble Lords feel that I have not dealt with them sufficiently, I should, of course, be delighted to send them a better, and perhaps fuller, explanation of it.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, would the noble Lord confirm that what the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, said is true? That was that somebody who becomes a citizen of Belize, and who is living in the United Kingdom, will have no way of knowing that his status has changed and that, if he does not take steps to obtain registration within five years, he will forfeit that right and will have to pay a very large sum of money, indeed, to become naturalised, if he is qualified?

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

My Lords, what I was asking was whether the Government would undertake to make sure that people who are citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies, because of coming from Belize, will know of this change in status. That is what I wanted, so that those people will know that they need now to register as United Kingdom citizens if they want to stay here.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am afraid that I am not able to give an answer to that, at this moment. But I should imagine that under the Nationality Bill, which is extremely complicated, there will be many explanations given of people's rights and so on, and that there will be advertisements in the papers. But, again, for a definitive answer I shall have to write to the noble Lord, Lord Pitt.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

My Lords, the kind of thing I was talking about was that all these islands have organisations. Surely, there will be a Belizean Society in Britain, and if the Foreign Office would just let the Belizean Society in Britain know that this is the situation, that would help.

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, my Lords, but I do not know how many people this involves. It might be vast numbers, in which case it would be impracticable to send a letter to each individual.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

My Lords, I was referring to sending a letter to a society.

Lord Skelmersdale

In that case, I can certainly make sure that this is done.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned the United Nations, the Commonwealth and the OAS and said that Belize has expressed the intention to join all three. We hope that Belize might be admitted to the United Nations during the course of the 36th United Nations General Assembly.

Several noble Lords asked whether it is true that the Belize Government have indicated a preference for a date in September, Yes, most certainly this is true and we do not rule it out. We expect to complete the constitutional procedures—for example, the passage of the legislation through both Houses—by the Summer Recess, but the completion of negotiations and a referendum in Belize are also needed before a firm date is set.

Mr. Price's Government has been repeatedly reelected on an independence platform and we are confident that the majority of Belizeans favour independence. On the constitution, the Belizean public were given ample opportunity to scrutinise the proposals of the Government of Belize. A joint select committee set up by both Houses of the Belize legislature canvassed public opinion and the matter received oral and written evidence in all district towns of Belize. Their report was adopted by the Belize House of Representatives. The evidence submitted to the committee was made available to the constitutional conference. So I do not think it could possibly be said that the opinions of the Belizean people were not taken into account. The UDP opposition are also committed to independence as an ultimate goal. Some members of the UDP claim that the moment is premature. To some extent it must always be the wrong moment when opponents are in office. To the extent that misgivings arise from doubts about the terms of the proposed treaty, I believe that they are largely based on misconceptions. I hope they will be dispelled when a full treaty text emerges which will offer secure independence without damage to the essential interests of Belize.

The heads of agreement signed on 11th March provide a basis for a just and honourable settlement. Their essential feature for Belize is that, subject to negotiation of a full treaty, Guatemala will recognise Belizean independence and territorial integrity within its existing frontiers. The treaty will involve no surrender of Belizean territory or restriction of sovereignty. In return, Guatemala will receive guaranteed access to the high seas through her own territorial waters, use and enjoyment of the two southernmost groups of quays on the Belizean barrier reef on terms still to be agreed as well as free port facilities in Belize and transit facilities through Belizean territory for imports and exports. Belize and Guatemala will collaborate on a range of matters of mutual concern.

The constitution will contain a comprehensive section on the fundamental rights and freedoms, with all its usual checks and balances. Entrenched clauses will require a three-quarters majority in the House of Representatives to amend. No amendment will be possible until after the first general election following independence.

My noble friend Lady Vickers asked about the position of Mexico. I can tell her that although Mexico has a traditional claim to part of northern Belize which has never been formally renounced, Mexico has consistently supported Belizean self-determination and would not wish to pursue its claim if Belize became independent.

The noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, said that the order providing for the constitution should be subject to Affirmative Resolution. Again, there are several precedents for constitution orders not being subject to any parliamentary procedure. Barbados, Guyana, Kiribats, the Seychelles would be examples.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, asked about United States military aid to Guatemala. There have been rumours that the United States Government is considering resuming limited military aid to Guatemala, but at this point I would not put it any higher than that. So far as I am aware, no decision has yet been taken. The purpose of any such aid would be to help the Guatemalans to tackle the problem of insurgency. So long as the Anglo-Guatemalan dispute remains unresolved, it would clearly also have implications for the defence of Belize and is therefore a matter of concern to us. The United States Government are well aware of this fact.

Finally, it has been almost intimated in the House this afternoon that we in Britain are selling Belize down the river. I really do not believe that this is so and hope I have said enough today to prove my point.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.